For most of the game, Michigan struggled with Binghamton, who entered today ranked 331st nationally by Kenpom. A soft Bearcat zone was designed to give Michigan’s wings open looks from the mid-range — the Wolverines obliged, and bricked a ton of jumpers. With just under 12 minutes left, Binghamton’s Sam Sessoms hit a tough layup over Jon Teske to cut the deficit to three. From there, Michigan closed the game on an extended 28-9 run (featuring a very effective Isaiah Livers at the five) and finished with a comfortable margin of victory that belies how competitive the game was.
The Wolverine offense was perfect to start the game: Jordan Poole hit a deep three over Binghamton’s 2-3 zone, assisted Ignas Brazdeikis on a give-and-go three, and made another three of his own from the same spot on the wing as his first. Within the first three possessions, Michigan had opened up a 9-3 lead, but didn’t score again for six minutes. That drought started with misses in the paint against the Binghamton zone, which had extended to deter outside shots. Charles Matthews missed one of his trademark fadeaways (and struggled with that shot all game) as well as an awkward euro floater; Iggy short-armed a free throw line jumper and missed a few floaters that led to run-outs for the Bearcats.
The Wolverines found that defensive dynamic difficult all game, and wound up shooting just 5-26 on two-point attempts that weren’t classified as dunks or layups. Michigan consistently found great looks on those types of shots; Binghamton stuck to shooters on most possessions instead of sinking down into the middle of the zone and their undersized five, Chancellor Barnard, essentially conceded jumpers instead of leaving the restricted area to contest shots. Matthews took those shots in rhythm and kept on missing; Iggy eventually started to drive more, but he took and missed his share of mid-range shots; Teske — who may have been out of sync after getting benched with an early foul — was off on several pick-and-pop shots from the free throw line area.
Binghamton kept on giving Michigan wide open looks, and Michigan kept on missing, which is how one of the worst teams in the country managed to hang with a top five squad well into the second half. Michigan looked to be on the verge of opening a substantial lead a few times, but the Bearcats stayed close: an alley-oop to Livers put Michigan’s lead at seven in the first half, then Michigan came up empty on several possessions; three-pointers by Poole early in the second half were responded to with Binghamton buckets. Poole’s presence on the wing commanded plenty of attention from the defense, but he kept on extending his range and finished 6-10 from behind the arc.
Until Michigan’s run to put the game away, Binghamton managed to find fairly decent looks against the Wolverine defense: Barnard scored a couple times off the pick-and-roll, and Caleb Stewart won a few of his one-on-one battles against Matthews (but lost more) and got open for clean looks from three-point range. Michigan still was able to force the Bearcats into a lot of tough looks around the basket and didn’t allow a made three-pointer in the second half. After Sessoms hit that shot over Teske to put the score at 46-43, Michigan held the Bearcats to eight straight empty possessions (which included shot clock violations, a missed set of free throws, and multiple careless turnovers), and by the time they scored again, the Wolverines had pulled out to a 14-point lead.
Livers was essential as a part of that run, and he looked more comfortable operating against the zone than any of his teammates (except for perhaps Zavier Simpson, who had 10 assists and should have had several more with the excellent looks he helped generate). John Beilein opted to have Livers play the five for that decisive stretch midway through the second half, and it worked out well on both ends of the floor. Livers knocked down a turnaround jumper; he stole a pass that would have been an easy two points for Binghamton; he pulled down an offensive rebound that led to second-chance points for Iggy; he drove and scored at the rim after catching in the middle of the zone; he made a pick-and-pop three. Livers finished with 17 points on just 10 shots.
Towards the end of the game, Michigan started attacking the zone more effectively by driving and trying to score over Barnard. Livers showed a better feel and more confidence off the dribble than he had in any other game thus far in his college career, and Brazdeikis eventually stopped settling and tried to get to his left hand around the basket through traffic (he also knocked down two threes late in the second half). As the outcome was being decided, Iggy went on a bit of a scoring run, and finished with a game-high 21 points. Ultimately, the zone worked as intended for Binghamton: Michigan took — and missed — the shots that were given to them, but the Wolverines hit over half of their relatively limited three-point attempts (mostly thanks to Poole) and still managed to get to 1.16 points per possession.
This win ends the most awkward portion of Michigan’s schedule — the latter part of the non-conference season featured most of the Wolverines’ least difficult opponents spread out over several days, but none of the wins were especially easy. Michigan hasn’t played as well as they did early on in the season: per Torvik, the Wolverines were the best team in the country in the month of November, and are 16th so far in December. Still, their undefeated record is intact, and Big Ten play starts with a home game against Penn State on Thursday.
[Box score after the JUMP]